How Our Ratings Work

During the extensive Clean Plates review process, our team of nutritionists and food critics carefully vet both the tastiness and healthfulness of a restaurant’s menu. Read on for more details on our rating system.

Review Criteria
Our Review Process
Our Rating Scale

Review Criteria

Great food starts with great ingredients — it’s as simple as that. From organic produce to animals raised without antibiotics or hormones, restaurants with the Clean Plates seal make a consistent commitment to using the highest-quality ingredients available.

Things we like:

  • Animals raised without hormones or antibiotics
  • Grass-fed, organic, free-range animals
  • Ingredients sourced from small, local farms
  • High percentage of vegetables on the menu
  • Produce from organic or local purveyors
  • Filtered water
  • High quality salts, like Himalayan sea salt
  • Organic wine, coffee and tea, and other better-quality beverages
  • Wheat- and gluten-free menu options
  • Naturally-sweetened desserts

Things we don’t like:

  • Too many fake soy products
  • Too much seitan (a wheat-gluten product used as a fake-meat substitute)
  • Few vegetable options or greens
  • Poor quality cooking methods, such as frying or microwaving
  • Poor quality oils

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Our Review Process

All restaurants featured in the Clean Plates Guide undergo the following process:

  • Step 1: Initial Screening: Posing as a potential customer, a member of the Clean Plates team calls the restaurant and queries staff about their preparation and sourcing methods. In addition, nutritionist and Clean Plates founder Jared Koch thoroughly reviews the menu online or in person.
  • Step 2: In-Person Review: If the restaurant passes our initial screening, the food critic and nutritionist visit it incognito (so that they won’t receive special treatment). They order as wide a variety of foods as possible—appetizers, side dishes, main courses and desserts; if both meat and meat-free options are available, they make a point of sampling both. In addition, they ask the staff questions, some a repeat of what has been asked on the phone, to check for consistent responses.
  • Step 3: Clean Plates Survey: If our food critic and nutritionist both approve a restaurant after the in-person review, then the final step is to have the restaurant’s owner, manager or chef complete a Clean Plates Survey — a detailed questionnaire about the restaurant’s sourcing, food preparation methods and more.
  • Step 4: The Clean Plates Seal: Once a restaurant clears steps 1-3, we give it the Clean Plates Seal.

Restaurants featured on the Clean Plates website and in our iPhone app undergo a similar but streamlined process, so we can avoid long delays in making our readers aware of new, noteworthy restaurants. If a restaurant is featured on our website or in our app, you can trust that we’ve screened its menu and sourcing methods in order to determine its rating.

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Our Rating Scale

As the French author and philosopher Voltaire once wrote, “The perfect is the enemy of the good.” With this in mind, we understand that it may not be realistic for you to eat exclusively at restaurants with the Clean Plates Seal. Many restaurants meet some, but not all, of our criteria, and we give these spots an easy to reference, color-coded shout-out on our website and iPhone app:

  • Clean Plates Seal = Approved (Verified by Clean Plates)
    Our highest rating:
    – Healthy, sustainable ingredients
    – Nutritionist audit of menu
    – 300 question chef survey
  • Blue = Clean (Mostly Healthy Options)
    Eat with confidence:
    – Healthy, sustainable ingredients
    – Online/phone research
  • Orange = Good (Some Healthy Options
    Healthy options:
    – Uses some good quality ingredients
    – Order carefully
    – Beware fried items, fake meats, lack of veggies

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